Kilburnlad | Film | Reviews

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Another space adventure. This time somewhere between science fact and science fiction. Using credible space vehicles, such as vertical launched rockets, and space stations, albeit somewhat more advanced than what we have now, we are asked to look into the perhaps not too distant future. The big question for me, given the reliance on such contemporary space technology, is how did they ship all the equipment to the Moon and Mars to create those amazing bases?

Putting the credibility analysis aside, here we have a story that centres on one man, Roy McBride, who we first see working on the exterior of a space station when it is struck by an energy pulse, causing him to tumble to Earth. These energy pulses are causing havoc on Earth and having recovered from his unexpected return to the surface, Roy is summoned to a meeting. He assumes it will be a debrief, but in fact it turns out to be related to the energy pulses.

He learns that his father, H Clifford McBride, a space hero who was lost on a mission many years earlier, was experimenting with an antimatter device, and the top brass believe it is this device that is causing the energy pulses, which have the potential to destroy Earth. Roy is interviewed with a view to him journeying to Mars, where an underground facility is unaffected by the pulses, and from where he will be asked to send a message to his father. This will enable his father to be located and the antimatter device destroyed.

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Hustlers


Hustlers

The trailer for this film appealed to me, and reviews have been good, with even talk of possible Oscar nominations. But I found that it dragged a bit, which seems to put me out of step with the general view. There are at least two stories here; the hustling of rich men by a group of enterprising strippers and the friendship that builds between Ramona, the star turn, and Destiny, a newcomer who is in need of somebody to guide her through the seedy business. Jennifer Lopez is hot with a capital H as Ramona while Constance Wu is well cast as the ingenue.

Everything is going swimmingly with the Wall Street boys having money to burn, although lesson one is to choose those at the top, who pay by the minute to watch Ramona and Destiny pleasure each other, although these sequences are in fact remarkably tame by present day standards. But the gravy train hits the buffers with the 2008 financial crash, resulting in business at the clubs taking a crash dive. Ramona comes up with a plan that basically involves drugging those punters that are still in the market to ensure that they spend, spend, spend, with the club and the girls both taking a cut.

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The Informer


Informer

After the formulaic Angel has Fallen, the subject of my last review, I found this film to be a breath of fresh air with a reasonably credible story line and enough suspense to keep me interested. I was, therefore, surprised to return home and find that on Rotten Tomatoes it received the same 39% from the critics as did Angel Has Fallen. There was no audience figure as it is due for release in the States in January next year. Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian, never one to give credit where it's not deserved, restored my faith somewhat with a three-star rating, saying however that it might have made a better episodic drama on TV.

Rosamund Pike seems to be getting a taste for action dramas, shedding her 'English Rose' persona. Here she plays FBI agent Wilcox who's been working for four years to infiltrate a Polish drug ring. The key to success is her informer, Pete Koslow, who we learn was released from a 20-year prison term after four years specifically to help the FBI. The plan is about to come to fruition with 6 kilos of heroin arriving in diplomatic pouches for onward transmission. The FBI agents are following but Pete's Polish partner changes the plan saying he has an immediate buyer. But this buyer turns out to be a cop who's way out of his depth, for which he pays the ultimate price.

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Angel Has Fallen


Angel Has Fallen

This is not my type of film but with little choice available on the day we settled down for some formulaic action. It's the third in a trilogy that hasn't received spectacular acclaim, the original Olympus Has Fallen seemingly being the best of the bunch. Having not seen the earlier instalments I can't comment. It is, however, interesting to note that at Rotten Tomatoes while the critics can only muster 39% approval, audiences score 94%, so there are obviously a lot of people out there who found the film entertaining.

My problem with this type of film is that they always come across as special effects and fight scenes looking for a story. Here the plot starts with our secret service agent Mike Banning (the Angel) in far from tip-top shape and taking pills to keep himself going. This doesn't stop him acquitting himself admirably in simulated shoot-out staged by his friend and former fellow Army Ranger Wade Jennings, CEO of the paramilitary company Salient Globe. Salient Globe isn't doing too well as under the current President Allan Trumbull peace has broken out!

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood


Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Whatever you think of Tarantino you have to admit that he makes films like no other director. The trailer sold me and I wasn't disappointed. It is 18 rated, of course, but compared with some of his earlier films the amount of blood on display is actually greatly reduced. But there is violence with the usual Tarantino comic twist, despite the severity. But this doesn't come until the end and could leave you feeling that it was entirely justified - maybe!

Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt are wonderfully cast as Rick Dalton, a cowboy actor whose star is waining, and Cliff Booth, Rick's long time stunt double. Two fine actors harmonising perfectly. Following a meeting with producer Marvin Schwarz, played by Al Pacino, Rick is convinced that he's a has-been. Cliff on the other hand, a truly laid-back character, remains positive.

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Blinded by the Light


Blinded by the Light

Continuing the run of musically inspired dramas, this time it's Bruce Springsteen's music that provides the impetus for the story.

Set in Luton in 1987 we first see Javed, or Jay, as a child with his friend Matt, the M1 providing the backdrop. Next we see him as a young man and not at all happy with his life. He hasn't a girlfriend, while Matt flaunts his latest catch. But more depressingly his family is from Pakistan and his father is a strict adherent to tradition, which means that Jay has little freedom and is told by his father how he should lead his life.

College gives him his first taste of freedom; and girls. It's there that he is befriended by a young Sikh who introduces him to the music and lyrics of Bruce Springsteen. Jay finds that the words of Springsteen's songs explain the predicaments of his life and offer him a way out. Jay has always enjoyed writing, keeping a diary from a young age, and at college he indicates that he would like to be a writer when the English teacher, Ms Clay, asks her new class the question. He quickly lowers his raised hand when he sees that he's alone, but Ms Clay doesn't let it go, and when class breaks she talks to him about his ambition. Another student is listening, and this is Jay's first introduction to Eliza, who will soon become an important part of his life.

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The Current War


The Current War

As an electrical engineer by training I of course had to see this film. Reviews have not been good, probably because the film needs to convey the technical issues that underpin the so called current war, principal among them the choice of DC (direct current) or AC (alternating current) to supply electricity.

Electrical networks were quickly developed after Thomas Edison successfully demonstrated an incandescent light bulb with a service life that made its use commercially viable. But Edison was an advocate of DC, a technically simpler system but with one major disadvantage. By using DC it was not possible to supply customers at any significant distance, thus limiting Edison to high-density city areas, and even then numerous generation stations were needed. With AC, on the other hand, it is possible to transform the voltage and thus use a higher voltage system to transmit the power. Without wanting to get too technical, the simple fact is that the higher the voltage, the lower the current required to transmit a given amount of power. And the lower the current, the further it can flow without appreciable loss of voltage. And equally important, smaller wires can be used at much lower cost.

Edison was, therefore, backing the wrong horse from the outset, but stubbornly refused to concede the point. Meanwhile, George Westinghouse, famed for the invention of the air-braking system on the railways, and heavily invested in gas distribution, became alert to the potential of electric lighting. The film tracks the development of this battle between these two men to light up America. We see Edison as totally absorbed in his inventions, with a workshop and employees helping to progress his ideas. As a husband he is shown to have been less successful. Westinghouse on the other hand is portrayed as more normal, although still a businessman looking to maximise his interests. His early attempt to work with Edison is rebuffed and what follows is a war characterised by hostility from Edison and somewhat more gracious behaviour by Westinghouse. Interested in European AC systems, Westinghouse experimented with AC generation and transformers, deciding that AC was the way forward.

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Yesterday


Yesterday

Based on the trailer I wasn't in a rush to see this film, but my wife enthused about it, so off we went. I must admit to being pleasantly surprised. It's basically a fantasy rom-com that follows on the recent success of films featuring pop artists of the past. In this case it's the Beatles. But the approach is somewhat different. Here the Beatles do not exist, along with quite a few other hallmarks of the 20th century. To set up this unlikely scenario there is a metaphysical event whereby everywhere on Earth is plunged into darkness for a short while, after which history has been selectively changed. Once you suspend disbelief the result is a fun film.

But let's first go back a bit. Jack Malik is an aspiring and actually quite accomplished singer-songwriter who is constantly encouraged by Ellie, a school friend who was once bowled over by his performance at a school concert. While Ellie, a schoolteacher by day, is constantly optimistic for Jack, his lack of success is gradually eating away at his confidence. Based in Suffolk, when Ellie secures a spot at the Latitude Festival Jack is over the moon. But the reality is somewhat different as he plays to a handful of people in the Suffolk Tent. It's the final straw and he tells Ellie that it's all over as far as his music is concerned.

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Midsommar


Midsommar

Where to start?

From all the recent films on offer the trailer from Midsommar seemed the most intriguing, which as things turned out was a fair assessment. There were suggestions of The Wicker Man, but I couldn't believe that it would be a direct rip-off of such a cult favourite. That being said, there are strong similarities.

This time it's Sweden, but before we arrive there we are introduced to Dani and Christian in the USA. Dani is very concerned about her sister, while boyfriend Christian is far from sympathetic. In fact a couple of his mates are trying to persuade him to ditch Dani, who they see as a bit of a pain. But things take a dramatic turn when Dani's sister finally takes the ultimate step in her downward spiral. Already traumatised, Dani then learns that Christian is off to Sweden with Josh, Mark and Pelle, who with him are studying anthropology. Pelle, who is Swedish, has invited them to Sweden to witness a once in a generation festival, which will form the basis of Josh's PHD and be of interest to the others. Although Mark in particular doesn't want Dani to come, in the circumstances Christian feels obliged to take her, she being encouraged by Pelle, an early indication that Pelle's motives might be questionable.

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Toy Story 4


Toy Story 4

When a film spawns multiple sequels there is always the fear that the magic of the original will be lost. The classic example is probably The Matrix, but the Star Wars prequels also came in for a lot of criticism. But there are no such worries here, since Toy Story 4 not only continues the story, but does so with the style and panache we've all become accustomed to. It starts by revisiting the past, which worried some commentators, but this was necessary to enable anybody who hadn't seen the earlier films (are there such people) to become acquainted with certain characters, most importantly the little girl Bonnie, who inherited the toys from Andy, and Bo Peep, who was sold and so separated from Woody.

Well, Bo is back, and this time as a principal character. We also pick up some new characters. Ducky and Bunny, soft toy fairground prizes, who add to the fun immensely. Duke Caboom, a toy motorcycle stunt man, ably voiced by Keanu Reeves. And Gabby Gabby, a doll, voiced by Christina Hendricks, who's been overlooked by children because she has a broken voice box, and is consequently not very nice. With her evil-looking group of ventriloquist dummies she has her eye on Woody's voice box. And last, but by no means least, we have Forky, a toy fashioned by Bonnie at her first day of kindergarten from the contents of a trash can. The problem is that Forky thinks he's trash, and a major part of the plot revolves around Woody trying to convince him that he isn't, all of course in his perceived role as Bonnie's protector. Woody is nothing if not immensely loyal. It's all very sweet.

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