Review: Under the Skin (2014)

Say what you like about Under the Skin (and it certainly isn’t for everybody), it at least has the courage of its convictions. In its daring attempt to mount an ambitious, abstract and experimental science fiction tale, it easily surpasses most other recent offerings in a genre now stuffed to the gills with comic-book adaptations; there’s probably been nothing as divisive or as elliptical since Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. But where that film spliced its genre elements with very human and spiritual dimensions, Under the Skin resolutely refuses to go any further than skin deep; the alien visitor, much like David Bowie’s outsider in The Man Who Fell to Earth (a distant relative of sorts), participates but doesn’t understand.

Full review: Under the Skin | Film @ The Digital Fix

Review: 300: Rise of an Empire (2014)

‘Dumb fun’ broadly describes 300: Rise of an Empire, and boy, it doesn’t get much dumber than this. Following closely in the footsteps of its predecessor, this belated follow-up tries to be prequel, sequel and sidequel by embellishing and expanding upon the original story, and on its own limited terms it just about succeeds. But what felt bracingly different in 2007 now feels a bit tired and silly; the heavily stylised look wears thin after a while, and the scrappy story feels like its been sellotaped together from offcuts and leftovers. Only Eva Green’s lively performance stands out from the onslaught of bloody special effects.

Full review: 300: Rise of an Empire | Film @ The Digital Fix

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

An in-depth look at my (and many others) favourite Star Trek film, which recently screened at Cambridge Arts Picturehouse:

Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan poster

Of all the films in the Star Trek franchise, THE WRATH OF KHAN from 1982 is usually cited as the best. There are plenty of reasons why that is the case, but there is a strange logic at work here. Current wisdom dictates that, in order to be successful, a film franchise based on a pre-existing property like a TV show needs to steer clear of anything requiring more than a cursory knowledge of the source material, so as to attract a bigger audience.

Yet STAR TREK II did precisely the opposite; it delved back in to the series mythology, resurrecting a half-forgotten villain of the week. It focused on the characters as much as the science-fiction story, and still delivered a smart, emotional sequel that resonates with viewers over thirty years later. How could this be? Wasn’t it a risky strategy to court the fans rather than an indifferent wider public?

Full article: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan | TAKE ONE

Review: RoboCop (2014)

Pity poor José Padilha. Not only did he earn the scorn and suspicion of the entire internet by signing up to direct this remake of Paul Verhoeven’s memorably savage sci-fi satire (taking over from Darren Aronofsky), but he must now endure the final product being measured up to its classic 1987 predecessor. The comparison inevitably doesn’t do his version many favours, but neither is it the total write-off many wanted or expected. In fact, ROBOCOP 2.0 emerges as the second best ROBOCOP movie ever made; but then after so many dud sequels and TV spin-offs, that wasn’t a terribly difficult accomplishment.

Full review: RoboCop | TAKE ONE

Review: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)

The late Tom Clancy’s most famous character is dusted off and rebooted once again in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, an entertaining if rudimentary assembly of familiar espionage plot devices and characters. Those who remember the previous Ryan films – in particular the original trilogy of The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger – will feel immediately at home in this new take, which moves the character in to the present day whilst portraying a reasonably faithful version of his origins. But the uncomplicated plot, brisk pace and short-ish running time mean that, compared to those previous outings, this is a lightweight take on Clancy’s hero, lacking the murky politics which usually dragged him out of his depth.

Full review: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit | Film @ The Digital Fix