Blogiversary Bash 2015: Consumed by Film

Hey folks!

It’s Cara’s 2nd Blogiversary Bash and I opted to get her a 10 best sequels list as a present. Looks like she has decided to share it with everyone — dig in! I’ve heard it is better that cake.

Silver Screen Serenade

If it wasn't already a party, it totally is now. Because Batman and Robin. DANCING. If it wasn’t already a party, it totally is now. Because Batman and Robin. DANCING.

TGIF, party people! Ready to continue with some Blogiversary Bash goodness? Oh, I know you are. 🙂 I’ve got another superb guest for you today: the soon-to-be uni grad, Adam of Consumed by Film! That’s right, Adam is graduating, so be sure to pop on over to his excellent movie review site and say congrats!

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Pontypool (2008)

★★★★

Director: Bruce McDonald

Release Date: March 6th, 2009 (Canada); October 16th, 2009 (UK)

Genre: Horror; hriller

Starring: Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, Georgina Reilly

Set in the small town of Pontypool, Ontario, radio host Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) drives through blizzard-like conditions to work and on the way has an odd encounter with a woman who repeats muffled sounds over and over. When he reaches his radio broadcasting station, he is joined by the station manager, Sydney Briar (Lisa Houle) and the technical assistant, Laurel-Ann Drummond (Georgina Reilly) before going about his day-to-day activities. After an average, less-than-noteworthy few hours of news, Grant receives information from the station’s helicopter reporter, Ken Loney (Rick Roberts) that an apparently violent mob has infiltrated the office of one of the town’s doctors. From then on, it becomes apparent to Grant and the others that something is not quite right with the ‘mob’ in question, and the radio employees’ situation quickly becomes one of doubt, fear and worry.

Originally screened at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2008, Pontypool is a completely different take on the zombie/post-apocalyptic genre. Whereas the focus of such films tend to be on gore and exhilarating action, Pontypool certainly is exhilarating, but far more in the psychological sense than in anything to do with flying body parts. The first thing to say about this film is that it is set, for the most part, in one location — the radio station — which benefits the film hugely. Director Bruce McDonald could very well have taken his cameras to various locations and opted for visual scares, but instead he centres the slow building and uneasy atmosphere on dialogue alone. Having the film play out in one location, and through the eyes of the three characters in the radio station, also places the viewer in the station with the characters — as opposed to he/she being repeatedly removed from film due to it jumping all over the place.

“Kevin, I told you not to watch ‘The Red Wedding’.”

Having shot the film in a single location, McDonald is able to fully develop his main characters and show off their every emotion while they receive word about various horrible events taking place elsewhere in the town. Stephen McHattie pulls out an over-the-top, yet thoroughly entertaining performance as a tiring radio presenter who seems to irritate more than anything else. The over-the-top element of McHattie’s performance ensures that the film does not slip completely into a downbeat, hopeless realm and even gives Pontypool a slightly humorous tone at times. His somewhat distant nature at the beginning quickly unravels as the situation dawns on McHattie and his colleagues. Lisa Houle is decent in her portrayal of a considerably controlling station manager. Her character grows as the plot develops, and for her first film role (she is married to McHattie, I wonder how she got this gig?) she puts in a solid effort which is sometimes let down by her less-than-believable attempts at displaying grief. Each of the supporting actors step up to the plate when called to do so meaning there really is no weak link in the cast.

“Let me guess, she watched it too?”

I am not entirely sure what McDonald had in mind when he was making Pontypool, in terms of what he wanted audiences to take from it, but I would love to know. For me, it is clearly a film about how we, as society and as individuals, are so wound up and led on by dialogue — regardless of who or what the source is. The film evokes connotations about how governments rule us and how the influence, and existence, of a global media order thrives on our reaction and acceptance of what they tell us. Throughout the film, our lead characters are relentlessly relayed news and it is their reaction to each snippet of news (one of acceptance over ignorance) that the film is built on — their lack of dismissal means the viewer goes on a journey of weariness, anxiety and fright alongside the radio trio. For all the viewer and characters know, the information they are receiving could be a hoax — again, the ploy by McDonald to keep the focus of the film in one location is essential here — but without seeing what is going on externally, they (and we) end up putting faith in unfounded knowledge. Sounds vaguely familiar, right?

“You all watched it? Brilliant.”

In terms of logistics: visually, at a budget of around one and half million dollars, Pontypool looks great and includes some neat gory, non-CG effects. I noted a few paragraphs prior that the film chooses atmosphere over gore for scares, but what is a zombie film without a few zombies and some blood and guts? Pontypool is far from loaded with the aforementioned though, which is a good thing because it certainly would have been easy for McDonald to set the film off in a clichéd zombie-fest direction during the last thirty minutes or so, but his avoidance to do so benefits the overall product greatly. The script is well written and smooth, particularly in the first half of the film where words are the primary purveyor of scares. The lack of drag (not that kind) during the film is a testament to the writers’ ability to keep their writing slick and interesting.

Just like in my Star Trek Into Darkness review, I am going to avoid giving away too much here (I reckon I should just get rid of the whole spoiler thing anyway, it is slightly disrespectful to the film industry I think), however I will say that the ending worked for me. I have no idea what was going on during the post-credits scene though, somebody will need to fill me in on that one.

Pontypool is a unique film in that it successfully combines the zombie genre with psychological horror, offering up a thought-provoking and generally gripping thriller in the process.

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

★★★★★

Director: J.J. Abrams

Release Date: May 9th, 2013 (UK); May 16th, 2013 (US)

Genre: Science fiction; Action

Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zoe Saldana

Following on from Abrams’ 2009 reboot of the Star Trek franchise, Star Trek Into Darkness follows the exploits of Captain James Kirk (Pine) and his crew on the USS Enterprise as they find themselves in a battle to prevent terror from being unleashed by a powerful fellow Starfleet agent who has recently defected, John Harrison (Cumberbatch). With Spock (Quinto) and Uhura (Saldana) having troubles, a domineering Admiral (Peter Weller) monitoring Kirk’s every move, and the biggest threat to Starfleet to date brooding, a seemingly inexperienced Kirk must regain the control and retain the trust of his crew and journey into dangerous territory in order to put an end to the violence.

I think it is safe to say J.J. Abrams is on a role at the moment. Without getting into his television portfolio (which includes the worldwide TV hit Lost), Abrams’ four directorial outputs have ranged from solid to sensational. Beginning with Mission Impossible III — incidentally, Tom Cruise phoned Abrams while the latter was in the middle of shooting one of the final scenes of Lost season one to offer him the job — Abrams served up an action-packed Cruise-fest which was fairly well received financially and in terms of enjoyment.

“I told you guys I was good at musical chairs.”

Up next was his take on Star Trek, a franchise that Abrams has often said he never showed any interest in as a child whereas all of his friends did. Perhaps that benefited the film, as it romped through the Box Office and reinvigorated moviegoers’ love for it. Working with Steven Spielberg had always been a dream for Abrams, and that dream was realised through making the wonderful Super 8 in 2011, another goldmine of adventure and reminiscence.

And now Star Trek Into Darkness. The first thing to say about Into Darkness is that this is a film created not just for long-time Star Trek fans, but also for new admirers (like me). By simultaneously directing an origin story retaining all that has already happened and establishing a brand new ‘parallel timeline’ in the previous instalment, Abrams has given himself and his audience a whole universe to explore vicariously through the crew of the Enterprise. We are thrust into the action straight away this time around (who has time to wait around?) in a riveting and enjoyable sequence full of danger, awesome visuals and witty dialogue — and these characteristics are maintained throughout the whole two hours and seven minutes.

“Hey Zach, look. JJ is doing the dance again.”

Admittedly, having not been a Star Trek fan (or ‘Trekkie’) before Abrams took the reins I am not well versed in the franchise and nor do I wish to pretend that I am (for fear of getting something wrong, mainly). Therefore I did not know of the significance of the different otherworldly beings that the crew encounter or the varying levels of ship on the Admiral’s desk — but the beauty of Abrams filmmaking here is that I did not need to know these things. All that I had to do was pay attention, sit back and enjoy picture. By no means am I saying that Into Darkness is merely a ‘dumb film’ focusing on big thrills and CGI effects to generate income, rather I’m saying the opposite: it is a smart film because it focuses on thrilling the audience and concocting characters to care about. The majority of thinking required from the viewer was required in the first film of the reboot — which Abrams handled supremely well — and this time around the focus seemed to be all about putting on a show for Star Trek fans old and new. And, of course, to successfully further the story of the Enterprise crew while retaining a degree of loyalty to the past.

“I’m in a glass case of emotion.”

Talking about entertaining audiences, Benedict Cumberbatch is cast impeccably well as the evil John Harrison and is the stand out performer. Even though he is used to playing ‘good guys’ like Sherlock Holmes in the self-titled BBC drama, Cumberbatch thrives in this new role, utilising everything from piercingly devilish facial expressions to a demonic-yet-educated voice level to create a tremendous villain to go up against Starfleet. Chris Pine is just as charismatic as he was in the previous film, though a little more serious and contained at the appropriate moments. Zachary Quinto can do no wrong as Spock who he was born to portray, and the likes of Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg and Karl Urban are all effective in their roles, maximising their screen time to create a connection with the audience (when I say “the audience” I really just mean me as I can only speak for myself).

Normally at this point I would give my views on specific parts of the film and write about spoilers, but I really do not think I need to for Star Trek Into Darkness. There was nothing that I significantly disliked about the film and I think all of the main plot points were handled excellently. Moreover, I would genuinely rather not spoil any part of the film because it does not deserve to be spoiled.

I will end by saying that, regardless if you are a Star Trek fan or a science fiction geek or neither of the two, you should see Abrams’ latest offering. Star Trek Into Darkness is a film for all movie lovers who just want to go the cinema and be engrossed in a tremendous spectacle. It is a testament to J.J. Abrams’ ability in filmmaking that myself who, just like Abrams, was never really into Star Trek before, is now a big fan.

The Summer of Sci-Fi

Okay, I will admit it: only fairly recently have I jumped on the sci-fi bandwagon. I have always enjoyed the odd science fiction film, but I used to be much more of a drama or comedy guy. Not anymore. Over the past two years, I have really begun to develop an admiration — through intrigue and awe — for science fiction. I think it started around the time Ridley Scott’s Prometheus was announced. Having never watched the Alien films (I have now) I was surprised that Prometheus had grabbed my attention as much as it did. The plot sounded interesting, the poster looked ominous, the actors lined up were of a very high calibre. Then the trailer arrived and I was completely sold. The mood set in the trailer was outstanding — total atmospheric eeriness. In terms of the film itself, I went to the cinema to see the day it came out and, in my opinion, it lived up to the hype. Perhaps having not seen any of the Alien films beforehand I went in with a different mindset to those who had seen them — I was not expecting a lot of Alien-related content because I didn’t really know what Alien-related content would look like.

But I digress. This summer — and beyond — we have the pleasure of being offered a significant number of science fiction films in cinemas. Having just finished my exams at university, I have only been afforded the chance to go to the cinema once in the last few weeks and that was to see Iron Man 3. But now that I am off university and free to do what I like for five months, the cinema beckons along with the upcoming sci-fi films. Up first, at the end of March The Host was released in cinemas, starring Saoirse Ronan, and having been panned more or less by critics — holding a 9% rating on Rotten Tomatoes — it has performed pretty well at the box office. Up next, the highly anticipated Oblivion, starring Tom Cruise. I regret not seeing this film in cinema as, at least for an hour, it harps back to classic sci-fi films like Silent Running and Total Recall according to Mark Kermode of Mayo and Kermode’s Film Reviews on BBC 5 Live. Other reviews have been moderate to favourable and the film has grossed over $200 million dollars. Of course, the biggest and most looked forward to science fiction film of the summer has to be Star Trek: Into Darkness (which I plan to do a blog post on soon, watch this space).

Following that are films such as The Purge (2013) starring Lena Heady and This Is the End (2013) with an ensemble of comedy stars. In July, Pacific Rim hits cinemas — perhaps literally going by the trailers. Billed as Giant robots vs. Giant monsters, Pacific Rim has a tough job in ensuring it does not just become a film where, well, giant robots hit giant monsters. The well-publicised Elysium begins screening towards the end of August — a futuristic take on current political issues, helmed by Matt Damon and Jodie Foster. Before the summer ends, The World’s End (hopefully not) will complete Edgar Wright’s “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy” and again it boasts the funny duo of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Even after summer, the science fiction fountain keeps flowing with the likes of Riddick, Ender’s Game and the second part of The Hunger Games franchise — Catching Fire.

I guess the reasoning behind this blog post is to not only give you an insight into how I got into science fiction, but also encapsulate how much the genre dominates our cinemas. Back in the 1970s and 80s — when I was not alive — sci-fi films were at the forefront of cinema: films like Blade Runner, Silent Running, The Terminator, and even before then Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Perhaps now, in 2013, science fiction is on a parabolic rise and hitting a return to form. Or maybe not. Perhaps it is simply an easier way for filmmakers to grab an audience’s attention with awesome visuals. But why can’t it be both? I for one am very much looking forward to this summer and am excited to get stuck into some sci-fi — are you?