Project Almanac review

Project Almanac, produced by Michael Bay and directed by David Israelite, it’s a time travel drama in the style of a handheld camera, ‘found footage’ film, though in the case of Almanac, everything is filmed because…. teenagers and because the plot requires it. The plot follows a group of out of luck, geeky teenage friends in high school going about their business, we get the impression that they’re sort of losers but they seem like normal enough high school kids, it centres on David and his life, though his friends play a big part as well.

Davids’ mom is out of a job an struggling to keep up with bills so is going to sell their house, she’s also a widow as Davids’ father died in a car accident when David was 6 years old, David and his sister Christina seem to cope well enough but things could obviously be better. Just from hearing that if you hadn’t seen the movie, you can imagine what David and Christina would likely do with a time machine if they had one and you’d probably not be too far off with your guess.

David and Christina find their fathers’ writings and plans for a time machine and suspending their disbelief, jump straight into the idea that it could work and set about making it, driving mostly by David, he’s helped by his friends and Quinn as well and they do the seemingly impossible, making and then using the time machine, driving forward the plot. Alright, it is a sci-fi but you do need to suspend your disbelief nonetheless with the science they present in how the time machine itself works but I guess that’s a minor point in the end. The film is okay as far as basic plots go, albeit quite predictable in the way handheld cam films in the last few years tend to play out plot wise, with characters finding a new power/location/machine, having fun with it an ultimately realizing it’s something bad, when things start to go bad. But in saying that, it does have a few twists here and there, again nothing groundbreaking but it helped to make the plot not completely average, the characters… aren’t exactly fleshed out or that interesting either, though the friends’ are a believable group. And the acting is passable, there aren’t any outstanding performances in this film if you’re thinking it’s quite like Chronicle, which it kinda is but yeah, no Michael B Jordan or Dane Dehaan’s in here.

The drama in the film seems a bit forced though and melodramatic, as actual teenage drama is I suppose, but more conflict within the friend group would have been interesting, the most drama centres around David and Jessie, his love interest, as they grow closer and eventually fall for each other. Things get complicated and David goes to increasingly silly lengths to fix his relationship with her, in the process messing up space-time or something as things start to go really wrong, this is the predictable and probably the worst part of the film as you feel like you’ve seen it done 100 times before and Project Almanac brings nothing new or nuanced to proceedings.

The story again takes predictable turns as it heads towards its conclusion and then… it ends on a whimper, though on a somewhat satisfying, ‘good’ ending, good in it not completely depressing. I do like that the film kept things a bit grounded in terms of time travel and the rules of its’ world, so there’s no visiting the 18th century, or famous historical characters, though the film could have had a bit of fun with that in a specific period of time. Project Almanac sticks to its’ modern setting for better or for worse and to its’ small group of characters, not really exploring more ideas about time travel and its’ repercussions, not bringing anything exciting or new to the sub-genre either, it’s a decent enough film and worth watching if you’re big into time-travel films but otherwise, it’s nothing special at all.

5/10

. Interesting premise

. Predictable, cliché plot

. Brings nothing new to time travel or the found footage genre

June summer TV preview

It’s summertime and you know what means… sunny weather, big summer blockbusters and the summer TV season also kicks off as the spring finale season ends. Some of your favourite shows have just ended but it’s not all bad news because there are cool shows coming up, both brand new shows and some prominent returning ones. Here’s a look at just a couple of shows currently on my radar.

Debuts

The Whispers – premieres June 1st (ABC)

An alien invasion show… with a twist, this show was supposed to premiere in the 2014-15 autumn TV season but got pushed back, I do have my doubts on whether the show will be a success but we’ll find out soon enough. The premise is interesting enough and looks a bit more supernatural than alien but hey, little children being used as conduits for aliens, conspiracy theories, it does feel a bit X-Files but as more of a straight thriller/drama.

Sense8 – premieres June 5th (Netflix)

A new direction for the Wachowskis’ and a stray into TV for them, it’s a sci-fi thriller of sorts and hopefully won’t be as confusing as Jupiter Ascending, the trailer looks decent though and the premise is interesting, centred about 8 individuals that don’t know each other being somehow linked. The idea and ambition is cool, something you can’t say the Wachowskis’ ever really lacked.

Ballers – premieres June 21st (HBO)

A HBO sports comedy/drama about football players, their families and their lives being rich and famous, the show is shaping up decently and could be the surprise hit of the summer, starring Dwayne Johnson, Rob Corrdry. Entourage with sports players, anyone?

Humans  – premieres June 28th (AMC in US, Channel 4 in the UK) 

Humans is a a British sci-fi drama, makes me think of Ghost In The Shell and is about a future populated with life like androids or ‘Synths’, kept by people to be their servants, though of course not everyone is comfortable with the idea of them and their sheer existence causes conflict. It looks to be a bit thought provoking as well, Ex Machina the TV show? Maybe not, but it’s along similar lines.

Scream – premieres June 30th (MTV)

Ah Scream… the TV show, the jury is out for this one but I hope it does well, it seems to be going straight for the type of audience that would tune in week in week out and it has a decent cast. Hopefully it isn’t as cheesy as I think it will turn out to be and MTV have faith in the show and to be fair MTV has made some good teen oriented drama in recent years with Teen Wolf, Awkward (not really a fan but it has gotten a few seasons).

Returning

Pretty Little Liars season 7 – June 2nd (ABC)

Hannibal season 3June 4th (NBC)

Orange Is The New Black season 3 – June 12th (Netflix)

Defiance season 2 – June 12th (Syfy)

Suits season 5 – June 24th (USA)

Under The Dome – season 3 June 25th (CBS)

Falling Skies season 5 – June 28th (TNT)

Teen Wolf  season 5 – June 29th (MTV)

Ex Machina review

Ex Machina is a near future sci-fi drama and the directorial debut for Alex Garland and it was one hell of a first film I have to say, centred on an ambitious billionaire Nathan played by Oscar Isaac as he sets about on testing an AI that he himself has created, in the story, he commissions a person to come and stay at his secluded mansion to interact with the AI.

The AI is called Ava, played by Alicia Vikander who has a pretty great performance in the film and the lucky prize winner is Caleb – Domnhall Gleeson, who gets invited to Nathans’ house, first of all the premise in itself is pretty great, the concept of a working, advanced AI and testing said AI for self-awareness and emotion raises a bunch of moral and philosophical thoughts. Ex Machina works very well in its’ rather small, focused setting and shows that you don’t have to have a huge budget, space faring sci-fi film or even have to have big action set pieces to make great thought provoking sci-fi and yes Chappie, I’m looking at you.

The film is driven a lot by its’ performances an Oscar Isaac is fantastic as Nathan, an alcoholic but driven man, trying to progress science in a sense and give the world a fully realized AI, as you find out he’s also a bit of a sociopath and doesn’t mind using people along the way to get what he wants, which includes Caleb and Ava. Who are also very good in the film, Domnhall Gleeson plays Caleb with poise and brings life to the character in a very believable way as a guy a bit out of his depth, hanging out in a billionaires house and doing tests on an AI, while Alicia Wikander brings apparent vulnerability and innocence to Ava. Nathan and Caleb have a strained but believable relationship important to the plot and you can sense from the start they don’t exactly see eye to eye, this just adds to the tension and gives the audience a reason to prepare for something to happen. And the plot itself is great because it’s so well put together and as straightforward as it is, it keeps you guessing and you can’t help but feel something is wrong, either with the whole set up for testing Ava or Nathan, that foreboding sense of tension and catastrophe lingers throughout the film.

And that is testament to how well made the film is, from its’ effective shots, often still and just showing Nathan and Caleb talk or used in conjunction with a plot twist or reveal, or used to pan away from the action and leave us to fill in the blanks, it’s very effective camerawork and contributes to the film. As does the music, which is excellent throughout and especially towards the mid-point and the ending, there’s a scene in particular where the music builds to a massive crescendo (I’m not too familiar with music terms) when Kyoko and Ava conspire together and it was probably the most tense scene in the film. The film to me had elements of a traditional horror film at points  because of how it was shot and because of the effective use of music, showcasing the use of music in the film to create an atmosphere and add tone.

Ex Machina raises interesting questions about AI and the concept of being alive and being human, Alicia Wikander played Ava so well that you can’t help but sympathise with her and for all intents and purposes she is ‘alive’ and you probably sided with her and Caleb as you watched, but is what Nathan’s doing wrong, can you even harm an AI that doesn’t really feel? Is harming an AI that can feel morally wrong? I like to think that there is no real ‘bad guy’ in the end, Nathan was a bit short sighted but had great ambition, Caleb was in over his head and lost his mind a bit and Ava was sort a mystery in the end, was she testing Caleb and Nathan the whole time, playing them against each other to escape to the real world? It’s an interesting point to think about and that’s left ambiguous deliberately. Ex Machina is a very well made and thrilling film from start to finish with some excellent performances from Oscar Isaac and Alicia Wikander, Domnhall Gleeson are also great. The film poses some interesting questions while not necessarily beating the audience over the head with them and simply enough portrays an interesting, well contained story which is very well shot, with a great soundtrack to boot.

8/10

. Strong cast with some brilliant performances

. Very well shot, great soundtrack

. Ambiguous ending may leave some audiences feeling a bit cold

Marvels Agents Of Shield season 2 reviewed

I do love a good TV show recap – good in the sense of the recap being good and in recapping a good show like Agents Of Shield, which is now a great show in fact with big improvements over season 1, season 2 drew to a close almost 2 weeks ago now with a near 90 minute 2 part finale which felt like a Marvel movie in itself. I found it it that good to watch and it really epitomized the scope, ambition and entertainment value that season 2 had throughout.

Season 2s’ big theme if I had to choose one was change, there were rumours of new super powered characters coming to the show as the Inhumans but imagining fully fledged powered on Agents Of Shield, surely not (Lady Sif is a cameo character so meh). Well Marvel had a plan with the show, season 2 followed on from the dramatic fall of shield, with the team being betrayed by Ward at the end of last season, Coulson is picking up the pieces and getting on with business, though things couldn’t be normal with Fitz suffering mental damage, Simmons not being with the team initially adding new agents in Triplett, Mack and Hunter.

Season 2 really started on a strong note, establishing things were different and the fun team of agents element of season 1 wouldn’t quite be the same, though we still got the feel for that as the season progressed with Simmons coming back and Fitz slowly re-integrating. The new team was actually great to watch, Bobby ‘Mockingbird’ Morse was a great addition to the season as was Agent Triplett and Mack, adding new comic relief and a sense of camaraderie to the Agents, Hunter and Bobby especially gave plenty of funny scenes through the season with their love-hate relationship.

The action set pieces in the 2nd season were a highlight of course, more or less any fight with Bobby springs to mind, as does Agent 33 and Agent Mays’ fight (one of the best in the season) and it showcased the entertainment value of the show, Agents Of Shield is just a lot of fun of watch and it revels in that, the writing, humour and characters all reflect that. Though this season was a fair bit darker in quite a few places.

Character development was huge this season and we saw backstories to a lot of mysteries e.g. the Tahiti project and Coulsons’ resurrection, Skyes’ past and parentage, part of Mays’ past, introducing her ex-husband as well and a lot of characters got some great plot arcs. Ward was around here and there but wasn’t that central to the plot this time around, though he gets a bigger part in the 2nd half of the season, Agent Coulson played a new role as director, plagued with Alien visions while keeping the agents at a distance. His relationship with everyone was strained a bit, but with May quite a bit. And Clark Gregg definitely brought his A-game as Coulson in season 2, as did Chloe Benett as Skye, also Skye especially had a great arc with the inhumans revelation and her gaining her powers. And general characterization, it was all handled generally well looking at the whole season but there were downsides, aside from her Hydra infiltration plot arc, she wasn’t left with that much to do this season and her reaction to a powered Skye felt a bit unrealistic (though she is a bit neurotic and overreacts) as did her actively trying to kill Ward.

Also Bobby and Hunter going to the ‘dark’ side, to work for the ‘real’ shield felt a bit out of the blue at first but it was understandable as the season went on, the Shield vs Shield element of the season was interesting, adding some extra conflict and giving us legitimate reasons to question Coulson, though in the end I felt the ‘Real’ Shield went to extremes a bit too often. And anyway what about Hydra? They got pretty beaten down this season, Bakshi ended up getting killed as did a lot of Hydra higher ups and while they were mostly present, Shield sort of overcame Hydra. Who are now at a pretty lowpoint as referenced in the season finale, what happens with them now is pretty interesting for the show as it seems Ward is being set up as an out and out villain, out for revenge.

Season 2 can’t be talked about in detail without mentioning the inhumans arc and their introduction to Marvels’ TV universe was handled really well I thought, we went from knowing nothing about them in the context of the show to finding out they have a fully fledged society, as viewers we were in the dark just as Shield itself was. Skyes’ dad was in Kyle was common knowledge to us all but we didn’t know who her mom was, though it was a bit of an easy guess once we saw Zha Ying and what she went through, seeing Skye re-united with her family was a great touch anyway and seeing her initially at and then away from Shield coping with her powers was interesting. It was interesting to see how the agents all reacted to the powered Skye, though still trying to help, the ‘Real’ Shield was fully anti-inhuman, setting up some inevitable conflict.

And the pre-cursor to that all was the visions Coulson was having, leading to the alien city and the Kree technology that was left, I liked how they built up to the inhumans with that, leaving us guessing all the way but it was a shame to see Agent Triplett bite the big one as he was a great character. The Inhumans plot arc more or less was the 2nd half of the season and it was great, these characters existed and Shield and its agents had to react to them, especially as one of their own was an Inhuman and now Quake (though Daisy has superhero name yet) and seeing the inhumans humanized through certain characters was a nice touch. No one this season aside Bakshi and some Hydra people were truly ‘evil’ and that was a nice touch for the show as the characters were three dimensional and complicated, especially Kyle, Skye and Bobby and once again, great characterization makes for great viewing.

Season 2 was a very entertaining romp – I just had to use romp at some point in this review but really it had all the makings of top quality TV with a bunch of great, complex characters, compelling villains and great stories, the action was great as were the slower moments and new characters always added to the show instead of taking away from it. Season 2 shows clear progression improvement from the first season and you can see that clearly in the finale which brought things to a great close and opened up opportunities for some exciting new stories, very inhuman stories at that and I can’t wait to see where the show goes from here.

3 reasons why Captain America Civil War will be awesome

So there has been quite a lot of talk about Cap 3 recently with cast announcements galore, of course needed for the story and yeah, the film is shaping up really nicely, it won’t be as big as the comics’ story just because of logistics and budget…. and loads of characters not being in the MCU yet, but it’s still gonna be big in scope.

I wanted to list a few reasons as to why I think the film will be great and will rival Batman V Superman, so here they are.

It will have all the heroes

Yes, all of them, Civil War as we know is big in scope and features a host of Marvel superheroes and villains, taking sides on the superhero registration act, going toe to toe against each other and simply seeing all these characters on the big screen simultaneously will be great. In a way it’s sort of a culmination of all of the MCUs’ movies to date, featuring all major Marvel heroes that have appeared on film to date, in the way that The Avengers was the big payoff for Marvels phase 1 of movies. The spectacle of seeing some of your favourite Marvel characters all in the same movies is great, as is seeing new additions, Ant Man, Dr Strange, hopefully Daredevil and a lot of others.

Added depth to some Marvel characters

We have seen seeds of tension and drama between Cap and Tony Stark thus far, coming to the surface in The Avengers and hell Thor and Tony fought in the movie, but the storyline for Civil War will divide the characters on a deeper, more personal level and it should be great to watch. We’ll see how Cap, Tony and other characters rationalize their choices and allegiances and seeing this less fighty, human side to characters should also be great to watch.

A stray from typical Marvel movie plots

The MCU is a fantastic, marvellous (pun intended) thing and while 3/4 of the films are great, there are a few criticisms of the movies as a whole, with not having enough compelling villains being one and having somewhat predictable plots, which stands for films like Iron Man 2, Iron Man 3, Thor The Dark World. And fair enough it’s not the same for all of the MCU which has some excellent films but Civil War should give us a different plot entirely, with no central villain or plot that is that predictable for audiences that haven’t read the Civil War comic and don’t know how it pans out. So we should getting a more nuanced and complex Marvel film with Cap 3, which of course is a good thing.